One of our goals cycling up the east coast of Australia has been to avoid the Pacific Coast Highway whenever possible. It’s been a bit of a challenge but, thanks to the fact that I’m riding my aluminum BMC Sport Elite (SE01) mountain bike mounted with the 1.9 inch wide road tires and four panniers* and Eric is riding the Surly Ogre(see earlier post) with road tires , road conditions and surfaces have not had any influence on the route we’ve taken. In the past two days we’ve cycled on washboarded gravel roads, rocky, steep, gutted 4WD roads, pot-holed paved surfaces with no shoulder and chunks of the edge missing, and chip-sealed roads with all the extra lose gravel covering the shoulders where we try to ride.
What my mountain bike lacks in speed on the smooth, paved surfaces, it more than makes up for in handling rough terrain which has been much of our trip for the past 8 months. The last two days are good examples of the varied and less than perfect terrain.
Forester to Taree (65 km)
Our intention was to ride from Forster to Taree on The Lakes Way. Unfortunately, The Lakes Way turned out to be a heavy-traffic, two-lane road with sections of little or no shoulder. After pulling into the gravel on the side of the road several times and bumping along the damaged road’s edge we took our first opportunity to exit this route and turned east on the road to Black Head, Red Head and Diamond Head Beaches. This “paved” in the loosest sense of the word road was better than The Lakes Way only in that it had much less traffic. But, my bike took care of the bumps so I could enjoy the view.
At North Diamond Beach we turned west onto Old Soldier’s Road which took us through Khappinghat National Park. Cycling through a canopy of trees on a dirt road was a welcome, peaceful change from the busy, tourist traffic of Lakes Way and the rough, pot-holed surface of the road to Diamond Beach.
The final challenge for our bicycles and, at this point, our tired bodies, was the 4WD road at the end of the day just before Old Bar Road and the final approach to Taree. This dirt road would be challenging for the best of 4WD vehicles and dirt bikes. It was also a challenge for our tired legs, but our pack-laden mountain bikes came through with flying colors.
Taree to Laurieton (68 km)
Laurieton Road is one of the worst paved roads we’ve ridden on (except for all the roads in Laos). Our bikes were fine but nerves from dodging pot-holes, steering off into the gravel so trucks could pass, and cars passing on blind curves or hills made me wonder if our goal of staying off the Pacific Coast Highway and staying on smaller roads was the best decision.
We did cycle for seven kilometers on the Pacific Coast Highway from Coopernook to Moorland to taste the “best homemade scones on the east coast.” The large, smooth, well-paved six-foot wide shoulder on the PCH really got me to questioning our goal of staying off the highway. Now I’m wondering… Which is safer for cyclists: narrow, shoulderless roads or high-speed freeways with large shoulder? (Research for another post)
Anyway, back to the main reasons I like cycle touring on my mountain bike. I can choose the roads less traveled like the last 20 kilometers of today’s ride on Diamond Head Road through Crowdy Bay National Park. I may not be fast but I can take the “less-traveled” road.
*I already owned this bike before we started the tour. In order to save money and get the most use of of this one-year old bike, we made a few modifications: Old Man Mountain Racks that mount to the axel and road tires. Luckily, I’ve been very happy with this set up.